Black Economic Mobility in the United States

A new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that there is very little economic mobility in the United States. The study shows that 43 percent of all Americans who grew up in the bottom quintile of family income groups remained there as adults and 70 percent of this group remained in the bottom half of income earners as adults. Only 4 percent of those raised in the bottom quintile rise to the top quintile as adults. Thus, the rags to riches story in America is indeed very rare.

In terms of family wealth, rather than income, two thirds of all Americans who were raised in families that were in the bottom fifth in terms of family wealth remained in the bottom two quintiles as adults.

For Blacks, 53 percent of those raised in the bottom quintile in terms of family income, remained in the bottom quintile as adults. For Whites raised in the bottom quintile, only 33 percent remained there as adults. Half of all Blacks raised in the bottom quintile of wealth remained there as adults compared to only 33 percent of Whites.

Related Articles


  1. One love.

    I know this experience so well. I have lived it. I am a 2nd generation transnational Haitian American. I was raised in working class households. I went to college and earned my degree and went on to earn a Masters degree and I became ABD in 2 different PH.D. programs at very reputable universities.
    Unfortunately, I never became gainfully employed. I was homeless and I had to live in shelters with my 4 children for years. I was shocked by the horrors of poverty. The most devastating part was when my children were taken from me due to my homelessness and placed in foster care where they stayed for months.
    In fact, my immigrant parents and relatives who spoke less English and had no college or university degree have fared much better than me. Many are homeowners and have decent middle class lives with very little educational attainment.
    There is too much prejudice, racism, colorism, ethnocentrism, classism and sexism in the struggle to attain a middle class lifestyle. I experienced a lot of hate from all kinds of people in school and it hurt most when it was from other blacks. Most other blacks and lower income whites and other racial and ethnic minorities were downright violent and hostile in their interactions with me and that continued in the job market and in social cultural life.
    You folks need to do a more indepth study of how these statistics relate to blacks across ethnicity, color and immigration status.

  2. Marie – I’m surprised that you have had so much trouble. Most foreign-born blacks do much better financially and educationally than native-born blacks.

    I would hope that you go back to school and attempt to complete your PhD in the field that gives you that best employment opportunities. More important, this will re-build your self-esteem.

Leave a Reply

Get the JBHE Weekly Bulletin

Receive our weekly email newsletter delivered to your inbox

Latest News

Recent Books of Interest to African American Scholars

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education regularly publishes a list of new books that may be of interest to our readers. The books included are on a wide variety of subjects and present many different points of view.

North Carolina A&T State University Mounts Effort to Educate Heirs Property Owners

Heirs property is land passed down through a family, often over multiple generations and to numerous descendants, without the use of wills or probate courts. In North Carolina, the value of land owned as heirs property is estimated at nearly $1.9 billion. Heirs property is disproportionately held by Black landowners.

Higher Education Grants or Gifts of Interest to African Americans

Here is this week’s news of grants or gifts to historically Black colleges and universities or for programs of particular interest to African Americans in higher education.

New Legislation Aims to Boost Entrepreneurial Efforts of HBCU Students

Congresswoman Nikema Williams (GA-05) has introduced the Minority Entrepreneurship Grant Program Act, bipartisan legislation that creates a grant program with the Small Business Administration for entrepreneurs at minority-serving institutions like historically Black colleges and universities.

Featured Jobs